Airports security tightened worldwide

Airports have implemented full-body scanners in the aftermath of the Christmas day 2009 incident involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of attempting to blow up a Northwest airlines jet from Amsterdam to Denver, Colorado.

Backscatter image

Some people are concerned with exposure to radiation emitted by backscatter X-rays. At airports, lead vests are not used and people fear being exposed to “dangerous level of radiation if they get backscattered too often.”

The Health Physics Society (HPS) reports that a person undergoing a backscatter scan receives approximately 0.005 millirems of radiation; American Science and Engineering Inc. reports 0.009 mrems.

According to U.S. regulatory agencies, “1 mrem per year is a negligible dose of radiation, and 25 mrem per year from a single source is the upper limit of safe radiation exposure.”

Schiphol in the Netherlands was the first airport in the world to implement this device on a large scale after a test with flight personnel the previous year. On May 15, 2007 two of 17 purchased security scans were installed.

The Netherlands interior ministry announced December 30, 2009 that all passengers on commercial flights from the nation to the United States will have to be screened using the full body scanners. Originally U.S. officials advised Holland not to use such scanners due to privacy concerns, but now Guusje ter Horst said that “all possible measures will be used on flights to the U.S.” in the wake of recent events.

Because of the privacy issue, people are allowed to refuse this scan and opt for a traditional frisk. Also, the head is excluded from the scan and the images are instantly erased. The analyst is in a different room and can’t see the person being scanned, but is in contact with other officials who can halt the scanned person if anything suspicious shows up on the scan. One security scan has been installed at Los Angeles International Airport. Another technology is the backscatter X-ray.

The BAA, the airport authority of the United Kingdom, announced Sunday that it would add full-body scanners to airports through out the country as soon as practical. The body scanners cost £100,000 (€112k, US$160k) a unit and they will be implemented at all six of BAA’s controlled airports. This came after Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, said that he was committed to using the controversial technologies.

“We’ve recognised that there are new forms of weapon that are being used by al-Qaeda, so we’ve got to respond accordingly. We will do everything in our power to tighten up on the security that is essential,” said Brown to BBC News. Critics have said that the scanners are ineffective and would not have detected the weapons used in the Christmas day attack, and that they would create airport delays.

The BAA released a statement saying “It is our view that a combination of technology, intelligence and passenger profiling will help build a more robust defence against the unpredictable and changing nature of the terrorist threat to aviation,”.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties group Liberty, said that the BAA should not profile saying, “Has no one noticed the terrorists’ ability to capitalise on discrimination, or the recruits from a range of different backgrounds? Whether on the street or at the terminal, suspicious behaviour is a sensible basis for search by policing professionals; race or religion is not.”

The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced new guidelines today about international travel to the United States. All passengers from targeted countries will have their carry-ons searched and be patted down, Politico reports. Travelers from all other nations will be searched randomly more often.

The targeted countries include Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia. Other targeted countries were not revealed for security reasons.

Every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are State sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights.”

The new regulations go went into effect at midnight EST (05:00UTC) on January 4.

Nigeria will install full 3-D image scanners to all of its airports beginning this year. The suspected bomber from the Christmas day attack originated from an airport in Lagos Nigeria, which had full-body imaging machines which may have been able to pick up the bomb.

The Nigerian government has expressed discontent with the new U.S. regulations, saying that it will discriminate against the 150 million innocent Nigerians if they wish to travel to the U.S..

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